A/N: I hope that you all realize that TenTen is an extremely biased and unreliable narrator. Reality and what she perceives are not the same. I'm trying to make that clear, and if I'm not let me know.
I should introduce you lovely readers to Lee's mom sometime. She's Aika, and really a lovely person. Not sure how to work her in a story, though.
As it turned out, her mirror practice had actually been good for something. It helped to allow her to manipulate the ice into just about any shape she wished. In TenTen's opinion, that was fantastic, as it only took her a few days of solitary practice to manage a whole range of ice weapons. Best of all, they were nearly impossible to break, didn't melt as far as she could tell, and she was beginning to figure out just how to form them into incredibly sharp blades.
True, her maximum time for holding one was only about an hour before her chakra ran out, but that was plenty of time to finish most fights.
She whirled around, icy blade whistling; as she completed another kata with the katana she had created. It wasn't as sharp as she wanted just yet, but with a little more practice…
Sensing someone behind her, she spun, blade aiming for the face of her attacker with years of specialized training behind it. She managed to stop it millimeters away from her intended target. "Neji, you startled me. Don't sneak up on people like that."
Had it been Lee, there probably would have been some comment about how he was a ninja and she kept telling him to practice, but Neji simply blinked at her, white eyes curiously peeking at her weapon. "That's new."
"Hideki-san has been teaching me." TenTen lowered the blade before releasing her chakra, letting it fall to the ground with a splash as it turned back in to water. "It will give me the advantage I need to catch up with you."
Neji made a soft noise of agreement before looking away from her, tilting his head a little as he glanced upward. They both knew he didn't technically need to, but it always made him seem more human when he did such things. "I haven't seen you around all week. You even missed team dinner yesterday."
The fact that it was Neji calling her on this made TenTen smile a little, even though she knew the accusation was really quite serious. Team dinners were a tradition started more out of necessity than any real desire to spend time together. Lee's mother was a civilian, who worked two jobs, just trying to pay the bills, and so food supplies for him were often rather low and far from healthy in spite of her best efforts; feeding TenTen was not the top of her parent's priority list, either. That was how Guy decided to treat them both to dinner once a week, to make sure they at least didn't starve to death, and after a month it had been Lee's ambition to get Neji to come along. TenTen herself had helped him simply because she thought it was fun to drag the Hyuuga out of his comfort zone from time to time.
All resistance had disappeared after what Team Guy called "The Naruto-incident", and team dinner was a staple in their routine by now. Neji was nothing if not a creature of habit.
"People are starting to wonder if I haven't killed you or something." He didn't smile when he said it, but there was always something about Neji's face that told you he was joking. Some kind of softening or lightening of the eyes that was difficult to describe. TenTen was used to looking for it, though, and she laughed at his attempt at a joke.
It was funny that, though she and Lee had been closer during their Academy days, it was Neji she had followed and was grouped with not long after becoming a Genin. Maybe it was because Lee had become her greatest rival for the attention of the only person that acknowledged her existence, or maybe it was because she could only handle one green spandex induced headache at a time. Really, TenTen didn't know why it was she'd chosen to try and befriend the one member of their team who seemed disinclined to return her affection, but somehow she had and somehow it had been a successful endeavor. At least as far as friendship went.
It must have been unusual to the rest of Konoha to see Neji without her in his shadow for the last week; at least to those who noticed her at all, as Hideki-san had painfully reminded her. She and her Hyuuga teammate almost always spent their evenings after training wandering the shopping district, looking at the vendors but rarely buying anything, delaying the time they would have to return home. Sometimes Lee joined them, but usually not as it was the one time of day he had free that his mother might be home.
"I'm sorry, Neji. Evenings are the only time Hideki-san can teach me. He's busy during the day." Busy with what, she didn't exactly know, and she hadn't bothered to ask. If he turned out to be a spy or a traitor or something that would reflect badly on her, but right now she didn't care. If she was right, and he was only here for the Jounin trials that meant she only had a month to get as much knowledge about her blood limit as she could, and endangering that for no reason was the last thing she wanted. "I'll make it up to you, Lee, and Guy-sensei though, I promise."
"You can make it up to me now. Have lunch with me." Neji didn't give her a chance to protest, instead grabbing her wrist and pulling her after him as he turned and started heading back in to town. It was Saturday, the only day of the week Team Guy didn't meet for training together, which meant they could work as they pleased. It also meant she couldn't really think of any reason not to go with him, other than she really wanted to keep practicing making her new icicle blades stronger, sharper, and better.
Lunch with Neji, however, was worth missing even that.
"Really that lonely, huh?" TenTen smiled, letting him lead her. She liked to keep him on his toes by acting meek sometimes, letting him take the lead without a struggle. It tended to make him nervous, which was always fun to watch when she was having a bad day…or week, like now. The power to make Hyuuga Neji uncomfortable wasn't any sort of real power, but it wasn't something just anyone could do either. "I thought you would be training with your uncle today."
"He had a meeting." The clipped response meant it was either a meeting with the clan council that Neji hated so much, or he simply didn't know what type. It was hard to say which. "I had planned on spending all day training, so when that happened I decided to come and find you."
Straight to the point, as always. She really thought she'd be used to Neji by now. "Glad you thought of me. What if I'd had other plans?"
"Did you?" Neji didn't turn around for his answer, and TenTen doubted he'd activated his eyes to see either. They both knew she didn't. Her life consisted of training with her team to avoid going home, or training by herself to avoid going home. This would seem less sad if she really got anything out of it, but from she was standing that didn't look like a true statement either.
TenTen sighed, waving the hand Neji wasn't holding casually in front of her face. "Completely missed the point, you jerk."
The lip twitch was so small, TenTen knew she would have missed it if she hadn't been looking for it, and it made her own smile widen a little when she did. It was something of a joke between her and her teammates that both idiot and jerk were terms of affection for her. Lee said she used them in place of honey or dear, while Neji maintained, in his dead pan way, that idiot was her codename for Lee and jerk was his. Occasionally stupid was thrown in there just to mess them both up. If she'd started out really meaning the insults, and she wasn't sure she had, they were now completely useless against her teammates as both now where terms of affection for them.
Confident that TenTen was following him now, Neji released her hand and slowed his pace, falling back to walk beside her in comfortable silence for a while. No matter how often he did this, TenTen always appreciated that she wasn't just following him any longer.
"Have you learned very much from this relative of yours?" Neji asked slowly, again looking up instead of at her. It was one of the amusing tells her teammate had that told you he wanted to ask something you probably wouldn't like, and he was still thinking about how to word it.
Hands clasped behind her back, TenTen grinned at him. "I've learned a lot, actually. That sword you saw, as well as any weapon I please. I can also make a whirlwind of ice needles." She hadn't tried it on a person yet, but it looked painful for her target. "Hideki-san says I'm very talented."
"So he is a member of your clan then." Lowering his head, Neji looked at her with a carefully neutral expression. "Do you intend to have him help you with your dream, then?"
Her dream…her real dream. The one she often thought about but almost never said. Her dream of one day returning to Mist and restoring peace to Kirigakure. Of becoming Mizukage, stopping the rituals of blood, restoring the clans, fixing it all. It was what she wanted, more than anything, for as long as she could remember. Once she had managed it, become that strong, she wouldn't have to rely on others and she would be important and loved by the people she had saved. It meant leaving Konoha one day, she knew that, but in her heart it would always be home and she could help Naruto with his dream of bringing peace to the ninja world. Really help, not just sit back and take orders.
That goal had never felt more far away than that moment. She couldn't even manage to beat Lee, how on earth was she going to become the Mizukage?
It seemed every time she turned around, lately, reality was trying to crush her. If she'd spent her childhood under the care of anyone but Might Guy, it probably would have. She had learned from his example, though, and refused to let it win. She could change her reality, if she tried hard enough for long enough. "Hideki-san says I'm quite skilled with my limit. With his help I should have some mastery over it in no time."
Admitting to Neji that she could only do this with help was painfully hard. He had learned most of the techniques of his clan alone, with almost no support. He always told her that he had more help than she did, with others to watch and clan records to look at, but she couldn't see how that should make a difference. Neji had had to figure things out on his own, just like she did, and had been much better at it.
"You didn't answer my question." Neji's face changed slightly from neutral to eyeing her intensely. "Has he promised you anything?"
There were moments when she thought she might love Neji, but times like this when he was being suspicious and protective were not those times. She did not need, and certainly did not want, protection. She had not worked so hard to climb this high just to have someone else steal what was hers in their misguided need to protect her. She didn't need the extra weight dragging her back down. "Nothing. Is it so hard to believe he just wants to teach me?"
"Yes. Clan secrets aren't taught to outsiders without purpose." It was obvious that Neji was weighing something in his head, once again trying to decide if he should say what he wanted. Sometimes she wished he was more like Lee, and would just blurt out what he wanted to say so she wouldn't have to guess what went on behind his blank eyes. "Even a byakugan wouldn't guarantee you the right to any Hyuuga clan secrets. Illegitimate children are born to shinobi all the time, some from missions some not. If they aren't brought to the compound and claimed in the first six months of life, white eyes entitles them to nothing but confusion from a limit they cannot control."
"Oh how cheerful," TenTen muttered, rolling her eyes. It was amazing that she could wish Neji was more honest, and then curse him for being so with her next breath. "I'm not some bastard street-rat, you know."
"I didn't say that." Frowning at her, Neji shook his head slightly. "I'm just saying that such techniques are usually so closely guarded that teaching them to someone from Konoha seems odd."
"Mist isn't like Konoha, Neji." She didn't know much about her homeland, but she understood that much. "Clans have no power, and they have to take it where they can get it. If a miracle happened and anything happened to my father, I'd be the heir to our clan should things change. Why shouldn't I know how to wield this power?"
"You want to go back with him." And Neji looked just as surprised as she felt by the anger with which he said that.
"Not right now, no. I'll have to, someday." One didn't just become Mizukage by waltzing in and claiming it, after all, although the idea of a glorious revolution appealed to her. Even then, she'd have to leave to gain trust and followers. Neji knew this; he'd been the one to point it out to her.
Hideki had offered, though. Just the night before he had surprised her with a kind smile as they were replacing most of the water into buckets. "I don't know why you aren't a Jounin yet, TenTen-chan. Your skills are quite impressive. Konoha must either be blind or else far more powerful than even rumor tells to let a prize like you waste your skills on Chuunin missions. You should come back with me when I finish my missions. I know in Mist your talents would be truly appreciated."
He had only been being kind, though. Again, TenTen was much too practical to think herself better than she really was. She would be a Jounin when Tsunade deemed her ready, and she wouldn't be ready even a moment before that instant.
Even if it was nice to think otherwise.
"Just be careful, TenTen. You're an important part of our team, and I do not trust this situation." Neji watched her intensely for a few seconds more before turning and setting off back towards the main part of time. "You have good instincts, though, and I trust them. Do as you feel you must."
Praise was rare from Neji, and usually she would have smiled at that, but today it sounded hollow. If she had such good instincts, why couldn't she decide for herself whether this was too good to be true or not?